Arguing the Pros and Cons of Drug LegalizationI'm all for...


October 10, 1992

Arguing the Pros and Cons of Drug Legalization

I'm all for the legalization of drugs. However, I think Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is making a big mistake when he proposes to decriminalize drugs by medicalizing addiction ("Treating Drugs as a Public Health Problem," The Sun, Sept. 27).

The American Medical Association notwithstanding, addiction is no more a disease than being a politician is.

In refusing to examine the evidence against the disease-model of addiction (e.g., "The Truth About Addiction and Recovery" by Stanton Peele et al., Simon and Schuster, 1991), the mayor encourages us to pursue a course of action similar to that following the repeal of alcohol prohibition, which saw the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous and the disease model of alcoholism.

On the surface, it appeared that medicalization proposals such as these contrasted sharply with temperance-era perspectives on alcoholism as a sin and alcohol as a universally-addicting substance.

We know now that the medical and temperance-models of addiction have much more in common with one another than psycho-social perspectives contesting both. In suggesting that the war on drugs be led by the Surgeon General, Mayor Schmoke is, perhaps inadvertently, stating that the primary focus of drug-addiction policy should be physiological factors within the drug user, the chemical properties of the drugs themselves and a religious-conversion experience, the foundation of most "treatment" for drug addiction.

I hope that in his calling for "the appointment of a national commission of unbiased medical professionals . . . ," the substantial scientific research findings contesting the disease-model of addiction will be taken into consideration. If they are not, the commission can hardly be considered unbiased.

Moreover, that "marijuana should be made immediately available for medical use, as should other drugs that are proven to have medical benefits," is unfortunately a drug-legalizer's red-herring.

Who is to decide what constitutes "proven medical benefits"? Philosophical bias pervades the medical profession. I am afraid this can only mean what biased, ethnocentric, allopathic physicians deem is appropriate. The situation is decidedly more complicated than Mayor Schmoke seems to realize.

The inhumane laws prohibiting the use of any drugs should be struck down for the one reason Mayor Schmoke, as well as his alleged adversaries, find most objectionable: People have a right to use drugs. Federal "drug czars," mayors and doctors have no right to protect people from themselves.

Jeffrey A. Schaler

Silver Spring

____________ Four years ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke put forth the controversial idea that drugs should be decriminalized. He was hoping, at least, to thrust the idea into the national dialogue.

The Sun, at the time, didn't endorse the idea but has recently reversed its resistance to it.

Sun columnist Michael Olesker has written two columns that would seem to agree that, yes, it is time for the dialogue to begin.

Olesker wrote a mini-bio -- a profile of a mid-level drug dealer who makes $350,000 a year selling drugs to his underlings. His money is gone -- on cars, wild weekends at the Ramada Hotel and other self-improvements. When asked about the idea of decriminalization and how it would affect his life, he answered, "It would put me out of business."



Could it possibly be so simple to eliminate the value of a cheap substance and, therefore, the violence of the trade in that substance? Overnight? Let's take the chance.

There is a school of anthropology which says, curiously, in many differing societies in many different centuries, a figure of about six percent of the members of those unrelated cultures chose to indulge in self-destructive behavior. That behavior could be over-eating, sexual indulgence, sociopathic aggression or drug abuse.

The figure of 6 percent is a stable one -- unless the abused substance is outlawed and thus given an artificial value, the kind of value we see in our neighborhoods. Then the percentage of abusers explodes.

The drugs themselves are relatively cheap to produce; it's only the illegality of them that makes them expensive.

That expense makes it necessary for a dealer to market -- to push -- his product to more and more new users, who then need more and more of their "friends" to buy from them, making more users turn into more pushers. And the beat goes on.

Make Hershey bars illegal. I'm convinced that there are some crazies among us who, when they ate their last one, would hit you over the head to get yours.

Soon after, the vermin would move in to capitalize on the chocoholic's addiction, find an illegal supply and make your next illegal bar cost $800.

How many muggings, car thefts, carjackings, policemen shot, babies shot on front stoops and other drug-involved atrocities must we endure before reason breaks out?

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